The Mother Tongue Project is a relevancy-based language and literacy project for teen parents in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In a state that ranks among the highest in the U.S. for teen parenthood and poverty, and among the lowest for educational attainment and child well-being, the Mother Tongue Project sees teen parenthood as an opportunity to actively reengage students with learning—and sophisticated literacy education as critical to this effort.
Researcher Lee SmithBattle writes about the motivation of teen parents to not only remain in high school but also to consider pursuing higher education. Realistically, she mentions that these students' “renewed commitment to school was often thwarted by competing work demands, family responsibilities, and school policies and practices." But her takeaway is these students' potential, and "that professionals are missing a critical opportunity to promote teen mothers' educational goals and their long-term success.”*
The Mother Tongue Project embraces this opportunity by making literacy education relevant and accessible to teen parents. Three integrated programs form the Mother Tongue Project:
- Mother Tongue English Class is a critical reading and writing class the teaches college-preparatory English fundamentals. The class provides high-school English credit and meets Common Core State Standards; the syllabus is grounded in teen-parent-authored essays; fiction, drama, and poetry directly and/or thematically related to parenting, gender roles, outsider status, and other topics germane to teen parents' experiences; current-issue articles; and other materials demonstrating the power of voice and effective communication.
- Mother Tongue Library is a diverse, high-quality collection of literature that addresses issues of sexuality, teen pregnancy and parenthood, shifting identities, sexual politics, and the roles of maternal voices.
- Mother Tongue Mentors is a community of former teen parents who have achieved academic, professional, and personal goals, and who mentor current teen parents as real-life role models.
Fundamental to the Mother Tongue Project is the conviction that its students are intelligent, creative, and resourceful; their academic achievement has not suffered from lack of capacity so much as from a combination of inadequate resources and opportunities, chronically low expectations, and a failure to make education relevant to their experiences. By addressing these deficiencies at the critical point of motherhood, the Mother Tongue Project gives teen parents confidence to graduate from high school and pursue further education, to engage the world as articulate and expressive citizens, and to effectively advocate for their children’s futures.
*Lee SmithBattle, “I Wanna Have a Good Future: Teen Mothers' Rise in Educational Aspirations, Competing Demands, and Limited School Support” (2007) Youth and Society, 38, 348-371.